6-24-18 Sermon “God is Light”
I’ve shared with you before that I like to sleep in as total darkness as is possible. So in order to do that, sometimes I use this sleep mask. If Lynn wants to read and I’m ready to sleep, I just slip this on and it’s as though I were in a deep, dark cave. Zero light gets in. In fact, just this week when we were going to bed and I turned the bedside light out, I commented to Lynn that I liked this moment best because that was as dark as our room gets. As our eyes adjust, as our pupils dilate, it appears to be lighter in the room. As we grow accustomed to the darkness, as we acclimate to it, we become more comfortable with it. So when we get up in the middle of the night - as many of us do - often we don’t need to turn on a light, we’re so used to trudging that well-worn path from bedside to bathroom in the dark.
We know how many steps it is, we know where to walk in order to avoid kicking our bare toes against the bed post or the corner of the dresser. In fact, you may not even need to really open your eyes. It’s a trip we’ve made many, many times and have become so used to, so accustomed to, that we can literally navigate the path in our sleep.
Rather than a choice, though, sometimes darkness is seemingly forced upon us. We find ourselves immersed in it, not by choice, but because situations or events act as blinders, as masks, blocking our ability to see the light. Tragedy or loss can plunge us into a darkness as black as a starless, moonless night. Drowning in this soupy murkiness, we lose our bearings, we step off the familiar paths - forgetting that the light is still there; the light is always there. And as a result, we move, we act, we respond from a perspective of a perceived total darkness.
Our writer, the elder you’ll remember is how he refers to himself, says that “God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all.” But what does he mean by that - that God is light? Certainly it’s a metaphor, but what does it mean to say that God is light? And even more basic, what really is light?
Well, second things first. Light is electromagnetic radiation made up of waves of varying lengths. All the light that we see falls in the range of what is called “visible light,” and is made up of what we perceive as the colors of the rainbow - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Beyond the visible range, though, there are longer and shorter waves of light, of electromagnetic radiation, that human eyes are unable to see but that other animals can see. So think about that for a moment - there are colors in the world, outside of the possibilities given to us in the biggest box of Crayola crayons, that we cannot even imagine because our eyes cannot see them. Our vision as humans is limited to the colors of the spectrum that are in the visible light range. But these are just a segment, a fragment of all the light and colors that exist in the infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray, microwave, and gamma ray spectrums.
The colors we see are created by the stimulation of the cones in our eyes by that electromagnetic radiation. The color we perceive is based on the wavelength of the light that is reflected off the object we see - with all other wavelengths being absorbed by the object.
This carpet reflects back the red wavelengths of light but absorbs the others, so we see red. So, thinking about it another way, without light there is no color.
That dresser you seek to avoid, that bedpost you maneuver around when making that midnight trek to the toilet in total darkness, have no color at all.
The presence of color depends totally on the existence, the presence, the reflection of light. No light means no color.
So now, let’s return to the first question, what does it mean to say that God is light? Well, understanding that all of our words about God are inadequate and can only be metaphor, if we take the properties we know about light and apply them to God we can understand that God is bigger, greater, more expansive than the limited amount that we can perceive, right? Like the colors outside our visible range, God extends beyond what we know, or think we know, even beyond what we can imagine. We can also understand that as light is broadly diverse across a spectrum of colors both visible and invisible, that diversity is also reflected in God’s nature as well as God’s creation. God has created things, life forms, even places that we have never seen and cannot even imagine in our limited human capacity..
I have shared with you before that darkness in and of itself is not a thing - it represents absence, and exists only as the absence of light. You cannot create darkness independent of simply removing light. This is true in science and nature, just as it is true in faith. The writer says that if we claim to have fellowship with God, who is light, but live in the darkness, then we are lying - to ourselves and to God. So, let’s take a moment to consider how do we live in darkness? What do you think it means, what does it look like, to live in darkness?
(ASK THE CONGREGATION THIS QUESTION?)
to live with anger
to live in fear or mistrust
to live in guilt
to judge others
to fail to forgive others
to live with hatred
to live with racism/sexism/homophobia
to live with xenophobia - fear of the other, those not like you
to live with misogyny
to live with bigotry
to live with a sense of entitlement
to live with a sense of moral superiority
to live in hopelessness
So what the author is saying is that if we say we have a relationship with God, when we claim that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, but we hold these things in our lives, choose to live with these things, these feelings, any of them, then we are not in fellowship with God, that we fool ourselves or are just flat lying to ourselves and to the world. We may be talking the talk, but we’re not walking the walk. As Naomi shared in her message a couple of weeks ago, “we’re quick to claim Jesus as our Savior, but we pick and choose when and where we allow Jesus to be Lord.”
The elder doesn’t leave us hanging on that precipice though, writing “But if we live in the light in the same way as God is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and Jesus…cleanses us from every sin.” If we live in the light, we are cleansed from our sin. If we reject the darkness, our sin is washed away. If we take off our blinders, our masks, to see and embrace the love of God, the presence of God in all of those people, places, and things that we’ve never seen or have denied before from within our limited field of vision, then we will be cleansed from our sin. When we embrace the light and reject the darkness, only then are we in fellowship with God, in fellowship with Jesus Christ, only then can we truly live in the light.
And that sounds great - that sounds wonderful! Hallelujah! But in the warm afterglow of our newly realized salvation, God’s light has revealed another question that we have to wrestle with - what is sin? You might remember a song from the late 60s, early 70s era called “Spirit in the Sky.” It was a popular song by a singer named Norman Greenbaum. I don’t know if he ever had another big song after this one, but he had some interesting lyrics in the refrain of that song as it pertains to sin that, as theologian Debra Freeman put it, “is perhaps present in the church, but is certainly common in the world.” Greenbaum sang:
Never been a sinner, I’ve never sinned
I’ve got a friend in Jesus
And I guess I would offer that if he thinks he’s never sinned, then Jesus must have been more than just a friend to him. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t count all the ways I’ve probably sinned today!
In 1 John, the elder writes that if we say we don’t have any sin, that if we claim we have never sinned, we make God out to be a liar, and God’s truth is not in us.That is, we are living in darkness.
Sin is, at its core, the absence of God’s light. Sin is sometimes defined as that which separates us from God. But in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome he tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, so I have difficulty with using that definition of Sin. Others have defined sin as putting ourselves above God, or placing our will ahead of God’s will. In the book, “What is the Bible,” by Rob Bell that we’re reading for Summer Book Clumb, he shares a definition that suggests that sin is that which disrupts the peace and harmony God desires for the world. Those are both better understandings, I think. There is systemic Sin in the world that is often equated with the idea of original sin - the “isms” that we often talk about of racism, sexism, etc., along with greed and all those other things we listed when we talked earlier about what it looks like to live in darkness. Those things are Sin, with a capital S, and represent a state of sinfulness found in the world.
Often, though, when we think about Sin we aren’t thinking of these bigger systemic things, we’re focused on the actions of a person or a group that we consider sinful or as breaking God’s law. In fact, it’s easier to point our fingers at this person’s actions, that person’s words, another person’s misjudgments and call that sin than it is to confess our role in keeping alive, supporting, or promoting the larger systemic sin that hurts so many people - sometimes because while that sin hurts someone else it benefits us.
For example, racism and other isms tells us that if we can instill enough fear of black people, if we can convince enough white people that Latino immigrants are all murderers, rapists, or are here to take their jobs, if we can convince enough straight people that gay marriage is going to somehow hurt their marriage, then “WE” will be okay, regardless of what happens to “THEM.”
That’s what systemic or institutional sin looks like. My male privilege, our white privilege is sin when it results in someone who doesn’t look like us being treated as a criminal or somehow “less than” us. Assuming that you have the right to comment on another person’s appearance or their body, grab or touch their body, or try to control their body is sin. What has been going on with immigrant families and children on our southern border for the past several months is sin. It is darkness. More than murder, or adultery, or anything else we like to point to that is carried out by individuals - nations and peoples are complicit in systemic sin. They represent the absence, the darkening of the light of God.
Now, some will argue that some of these are matters of law and order, misquoting scripture to make their point. But lest we forget, Jesus broke the law and supported the breaking of the law when necessary; about adultery and those penalties; about the Sabbath; cleanliness laws, just to name a few. Jesus never denied that he broke the laws of Israel and the Roman Empire; he claimed that these were unjust laws, and not of God. And as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently pointed out, not only do we have no moral obligation to follow unjust laws, we do, in fact, have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws. Systemic sin, whether perpetrated on a border, in the urban centers of our cities, or in our schools and workplaces, lives and breeds in unjust laws where the light of God has been blocked, covered, masked, or placed under a bushel. Unjust laws develop out of and envelop us in darkness. But Christ calls us to come out of that darkness and into the light of God that is broader, and brighter, and more all-encompassing that we can even imagine.
The elder, in the first two verses of chapter two tells us,
“My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world.”
This passage is not solely about human sinfulness. If it were there would be no good news here. Rather, the author points to the nature of who God is: “God is light and in God there is no darkness at all.” The Good News of the Gospel hangs on this gracious truth and revolves around this all-encompassing, sunlight-surpassing, sin-forgiving, darkness-busting light that emanates from God, and that meets us in the person of Jesus Christ. As the Rev. Zan Holmes told us in a sermon at annual conference earlier this month,
“Jesus meets us where we are, but treats us as though we were where we were supposed to be.”
Where we are supposed to be is walking in the light of Christ as the body of Christ, as both individuals and as the church, made in the image of the God who is light and who is love. We are called to let our light so shine before the world that there is no doubt about who - and whose - we are; beloved Children of the God who is the light of the world. Amen.